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An awful truth about South Africa under President Ramaphosa — this is as good as it gets


Shapshak is editor-in-chief of and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

So desperate for change and leadership, we are delusional if we think President Cyril Ramaphosa is going to be any different.

In a poignant scene in that excellent film of the same name, Jack Nicholson proclaimed: “What if this is as good as it gets?”

Nicholson won an Oscar for his portrayal of a brilliant author with chronic obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and a mean streak. He asks this famous question to a room full of other patients waiting to see their psychologist. They could be the citizens of South Africa, in an eternal waiting room anxiously expecting our non-practising President to make a decision. Any decision.

The whole country yearns for President Cyril Ramaphosa to act with some kind of urgency or haste. We pray for him to be decisive (with anything) and put the country’s interests before the ruling party’s.

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Every few months after another own-goal crisis, there is a renewed countrywide delusion that maybe this is the time that our overly pedantic, unnecessarily consultative and extremely procrastinating President will find his backbone and act with exigency.

Political commentators, columnists, radio callers and everyone who cares about South Africa were hoping that the long-delayed Cabinet reshuffle would be the moment Ramaphosa finally found his backbone, that missing sense of urgency and a (belated) willingness to prune deadwood from his Cabinet.

Except he didn’t.

Nothing is going to change.

There will be no sudden flair from a man who has defeated his internal party enemies and emerged as the leader of what is left of a political party. Remember, 40% of the ANC’s delegates voted for a discredited doctor who (allegedly) looted R150-million of public money during a global pandemic.

Ramaphosa turns 71 this year. He is not going to change. This is who he is.

This is the same party that took three days at its four-day conference just to register these delegates. Not having any policy discussions hardly mattered, because the ANC continues to recycle the same, impractical, outdated ideas that still aren’t working.

If Ramaphosa is as delusional about ANC internal politics and still believes unity among a bunch of entrepreneurial hyenas is possible, how can he realistically identify and comprehend the real problems the country faces in the real world?

Ramaphosa turns 71 this year. He is not going to change. This is who he is.

Everybody knows that to fix things, #loadshitting Gwede Mantashe can’t continue as a non-practising energy minister; even if he got Ramaphosa re-elected at Nasrec 2.0. The self-confessed “coal fundamentalist” can’t recall the performance agreement he signed with Ramaphosa to procure 2,000MW of extra energy, nor does he know that the law only allows his department to build new power stations.

We all laughed at his predecessor Mosebenzi Zwane’s ignorance of legislation while testifying at the Zondo Commission. Mantashe is as wilfully ignorant, but he is literally the only person in the country who can legally get more electricity supply for the country.

But there he is, the most powerful man in the ANC. He’s bulletproof. 

Instead of cutting down a bloated Cabinet, Ramaphosa created two more ministries, one of which is to monitor the rest of the government. The new electricity minister has already been labelled a “project manager” by Mantashe — and you know that’s the most accurate summary of how Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s attempts to end #loadshitting will pan out.

There are many technological solutions to many of South Africa’s problems, but there is hardly any political will to upset the precarious internal factions of the ruling party.

Credibility problem

More than anything else, Ramaphosa has a credibility problem. Nobody believes him any more. Remember the then Deputy President proclaiming in September 2015: “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.”

Consider Eskom’s predicament. Of its R400-billion debt, about R50-billion is from ANC-run municipalities that have not paid over the fees collected from residents. That is an eighth of Eskom’s unsustainable, inescapable debt because of elected officials not fulfilling their constitutional mandate, and ethical obligations.

Put another way, it’s the effects of cadre deployment.

When the Democratic Alliance took over the Tshwane council and the City of Joburg, it embarked on a much-publicised disconnection of electricity defaulters, many of which were government departments. It took a new political party in power for the city management to fulfil its fiduciary duties — not to mention those of the accounting officers of the various departments — to pay for their electricity.

It’s a useful way to understand why there have been so few State Capture arrests. Until the ruling party is out of government, there is no way one branch of the ANC is going to allow another to be embarrassed about not paying for electricity — why would anyone expect anything different with law enforcement agencies? And we’re now on a financial greylist because of the hollowing out of these dilapidated police and prosecutorial services.

We may have got rid of #PresidunceZuma, but the effects of those “nine wasted years” as Ramaphosa himself called them, continues to linger. Ramaphosa’s time in office will one day also be labelled “wasted years”.

As Nicholson pointed out: “This is as good as it gets”. BM/DM


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  • Christopher Campbell says:

    Great article from Toby. Sadly it hits the nail on the head. This is as good as it’s going to be. Every time we think it can’t get worse they surprise us with even more ridiculous nonsense.

  • Alan Watkins says:

    But probably not as bad as it will get

  • Nos Feratu says:

    I hope nobody is expecting the leopard to change its spots. Dr Dolittle, King Cyril the Boneless or whatever is a shining example of Fixfokall and Dofokall. The acronym SOMFA comes to mind – sit on my f… ass.

  • Bruce Q says:

    One can only wonder at the pure stupidity of our governing party.
    In just one generation, this intellectually bereft bunch have managed to ruin the perfectly positioned country it inherited from the previous government.
    Fortunately their stupidity knows no bounds, and they are now determined to destroy themselves as well.
    This path of self destruction is clearly signposted by their election of a bafoon as the Secretary-General of the ANC, having a mumbling and bumbling luddite as Chairman, and let’s not forget Mr. Donothing who they reelected as their President (because they couldn’t find anyone better to, er, lead).
    Alas, they are dragging us all down with them.
    When will the scales fall from the eyes of the electorate?
    The scariest possible result of this damnation that we South Africans are suffering is populist politics.
    If the EFF have a surge in popularity, it’s over. Out of the frying pan, into the fires of hell!
    Another failed African state.

  • Tony B says:

    For the majority of living creatures in our “rainbow nation” [sic], today, is the worst that it has ever been and the best that it will ever be again.

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